Stiff shoulder

Edited: March 3, 2018, 6:42 PM · I’ve been playing a little over a year and just finishing my first fundamentals book. Teacher says intonation is great, fingerings look good and bow hold/straightness are decent.However one thing that seems to be greatly affecting my playing and progression currently is I’m playing way too much from the shoulder as opposed to the wrist/elbow. Too much tension and stiffness and everything goes downhill from there. After a couple of weeks of trying some different exercises and me trying to focus on it she said she was going to do some research to see if she could come up with something to help correct it. Curious if anyone here has any ideas or helpful tips to help correct.

Replies (9)

March 3, 2018, 7:32 PM · I think your teacher needs to find a wooden stick to physically "drop your shoulders!"

Jokes aside, this phrase was what I was told the most during lessons. If you can look up a Heifetz video, his high shoulder comes from the high wrist from the Russian bow hold. So perhaps, the prerequisite to "drop your shoulders" would actually be "flatten/drop your wrist!"

Furthermore, since you mentioned "playing from the shoulder", it probably means your wrist aren't very flexible, because in a proper setup, the wrist actually takes care of the bow movement, and shoulder movement is used for string crossings. So another check would be to see if your wrist is flexible enough.

March 3, 2018, 9:17 PM · Try to relax your whole right arm and shoulder. You can try placing your elbow on a something and try short to medium length bow strokes on one string in which you move from the elbow only. The upper arm moves to cross strings.
March 3, 2018, 9:36 PM · My wrist isn’t very flexible at all and that has been noted by my teacher. Is there a way to increase that flexibility or is it just a matter of muscle memory repetitive movement?
March 3, 2018, 11:04 PM · I see a lit, that children practice the open strings having a wall from a right side, so shoulders can not open. And on E string the right shoulder can be fixed down to your body by a soft scarf, so it is relaxed, down, but can not move much, so you have to use your wrist to bow. 5 min of this and you will remember, how to move your wrist.
March 4, 2018, 5:42 AM · @Lindsey one of the many sciences behind wrist flexibility is to be able to re-balance the hand weight on the bow, at different parts of the bow.

i.e. at the tip, since it's so light, a bit of pressure from the index finger might be needed to get the same sound at middle/frog.

at the frog, since it's so heavy, we actually want to re-adjust the weight, by leaning the entire hand on the pinky, so that your weight of your index finger is relieved from the bow.

If your wrist is flexible enough, anybody should be able to pull the bow away from you while you are playing!

March 4, 2018, 6:35 AM · Welcome to Violinist .com Lindsey,

My advice to you is spend time practicing one and two octave scales using the entire bow from frog to tip. You can start with with one note per bow then two notes etc. Strive to pull a straight line with an even sound, and this is not necessarily easy to do. Using the whole bow length in a fairly straight path with a even sound will in time teach your arm and hand to fluidly do this motion. A look in the mirror occasionally might also benefit you.

Edited: March 4, 2018, 8:11 AM · If we can not observe you while playing.... we can only speculate, which is a favourite pastime of violin dot com-ers!
Nevertheless, take a mid-size ball and play with your friend. Pay attention how do you toss the ball, or catch it. All joints, all muscles in your arm, from shoulder, upper arm, elbow, lower arm, wrist and fingers...participate in this activity. Moreover, your whole body participates; there is a kinetic chain in every single movement.
You do not toss the ball from your wrist only; well, you may try, but will get injured in no time.
Violin playing, if done naturally, is no different than other free movements of our body.
This being said, if your setup (CR &SR) and violin / bow hold is not optimal, it will be impossible to move your limbs freely.
So, back to square one: setup, posture, hold.
If you can't move freely, change, then try again.
Did I mention that your violin teacher is your best friend?
March 4, 2018, 8:53 AM · If one bows entirely from the shoulder, the bow will move on the strings in an arc path rather than normal to the strings.

I recommend the $15 Bow-Right (available from Amazon) or similar device to test one's bowing - although I do not recommend its use for regular playing or practice. When used with some thought it allows a player to balance, shoulder, elbow, wrist and finger motions to play with a straight bow. It can contribute to better overall playing posture and even better options/choices of chinrest and shoulder rest.

The shoulder is a really tricky joint (maybe all joints are). I ruined my right shoulder 20 years ago when I replaced my worn-out Apple computer mouse with an off-brand one. Just the few little millimeters in dimensions difference here and there wrecked my right shoulder to the point that a very few years later, when my grandson was 4 years old, I found I could not throw a ball even as well as he could. Fortunately that was the only activity I noticed to be affected, and not something I really needed to do. It was hard to realize that something I thought I was doing with my fingers and hand could affect my shoulder. Once I realized what had happened, I "bit the bullet" and spent the extra few dollars to buy a real Apple mouse - but it was too late.

March 6, 2018, 5:16 AM · Thank you all for the feedback. This gives me plenty of information to work with and think about! When I bow frog to rip my bow I struggle to control the bow to maintain straightness and therefore overcompensate with movement from my shoulder which creates a slight sawing motion. My teacher recorded us both playing together from several angles at my last lesson. She then played it back to help me visualize where the movement is not (but should be) coming from. I think this feedback will definitely help me put it all together and improve!

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